Day care centres demand support

ECD workers and owners protesting in Alexandra township this week. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

Affected by the pandemic and the lockdown, early childhood development centres around the country are calling for government support.

Hundreds of early childhood centres (ECD) across the country wrapped up their week-long demonstration to appeal to government for relief. Started on Monday, the demonstration was a reaction to an announcement by the social development minister that R1,3 billion has been set aside to employ about 300,000 young people to monitor ECD centres for covid-19 compliance and related matters. 

“We say rather re-direct that money to strengthen the centres, preserve and create jobs, and improve the curriculum,” says Mary Rametsi, chairperson of Alexandra Early Childhood Development Association and the owner of the Happy Toys Day Care Centre. They held their picket on a busy London road in Alexandra where motorists and pedestrians sympathised with hoots and whistles. 

She said as a result of covid, many of them haven’t opened since March as they are awaiting a directive from the Department of Social Development. To comply with the covid regulations, she complains, is difficult as they are many – and costly, especially since ECD centres haven’t received covid relief. “We gave them a memorandum which contains all our demands. They promised to come back to us and if we are not satisfied we’ll go back to the streets again,” Rametsi says.

Lydia Mabetoa, owner of People’s Choice Day Care, says she last paid her staff of six in February this year. She says life is very difficult and prays for the government to intervene especially for her day mothers who are still working and receive nothing. She accommodates 60 kids from six months of age to six years.

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Her fellow crèche owner, Thandi Leruli of Sinothando Day Care, says the number of kids in her care has dropped since many parents took them back to rural homelands for fear of contracting the virus.

“Some parents are very scared and one can understand. We also say to the government that this money can be best used for the infrastructure upkeep of the centres – by building facilities such as toilets and playgrounds. This should be an opportunity to seriously consider the development of the kids wholeheartedly,” she says. Leruli started her crèche in 2010 and now she looks after 90 kids. Currently, she pays her teachers R1,200 a month and she would like to raise that to at least R3,500 but the rising non-payment of crèche fees makes that prospect faint. “That’s another challenge as a lot of them don’t work or kids come from child-headed homes.”

Lumka Oliphant of the Social Development department says they are aware of the challenges raised by the ECDs and promised to comment once the statement on the matter has been approved. She hasn’t done so at the time of writing.

Thabiso Hlongwane of the Gauteng Social Development department says so far in the province they have disbursed around R69-million in support of only registered and compliant ECDs. “Children’s rights are paramount. We can’t cut corners and be found wanting when coming to the issues of compliance. We always urge ECDs to try their best to comply no matter how tedious requirements might be,” he says.

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Earlier this year in his state of the province address, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said the government will support 700,000 children aged 0-4 years in early childhood development centres across the province. He said this will be done through funding, curriculum development and training of teachers.

“We want all crèches operating in Gauteng to comply with the ECD norms and standards and follow the approved curriculum so that they can offer our children a proper foundation, including numeracy, digital literacy and inclusionary education,” the premier said.

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